Poor broadband ‘holding back’ rural businesses in Wales

More must be done to improve mobile phone coverage and access to superfast broadband in rural Wales, say farm leaders.

Many people living in rural communities felt that limited access to good signal and a reliable internet connection was “holding back” their business, a meeting of NFU Cymru’s rural affairs board heard.

“Farmers have been hindered by poor connectivity issues for a considerable amount of time,” said board chairman Hedd Pugh.

See also: Call to end mobile ‘not-spots’ in Wales

“We know of several examples from across Wales where farmers have invested in new technology on farm, but because so much of this technology is dependent on broadband, they are unable to take advantage of the benefits of this investment.”

He added: “Quite often rural customers are paying the same amount for the restricted service they receive as urban customers who enjoy far better connectivity.

“More needs to be done to ensure that those living rurally are not disadvantaged by their locations – particularly as many services, including agricultural support, are now being moved exclusively online.”

Although most Welsh farmers now own a mobile phone, many still do not receive reliable coverage across the farm in order to make voice calls and send text messages.

Mr Pugh said: “This is particularly frustrating for landowners who have been extremely generous in supporting rental agreements for telecommunications masts to be erected on their land, but due to many of these rental contracts changing, the signal is actually getting worse.

“We want to see parity for rural customers and a cure for the connectivity issues that are holding their businesses back.”

Ofcom decision

Countryside campaigners hope a recent Ofcom decision to separate BT and Openreach would open up the network and result in a better infrastructure and faster, more reliable broadband.

Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance said: “The proposal to separate BT and Openreach could lead to greater competition, but it is going to take several years to ‘separate’ BT and Openreach.

“This should not distract us all from the rollout of broadband to those communities which are receiving a poor level of service, who need connectivity now.” 

According to BT, access to superfast broadband is available in about 50% of homes and rural businesses in Wales.

BT aims to increase access to superfast broadband (speeds of 30MB or above) to 96% of homes and businesses in Wales by next summer. But questions remain about the 4%, which includes many farmers, who face a broadband shutout unless more investment is made to connect “hard-to-reach” properties.

See more